By now, many businesses recognize the advantages of social media: reach your audience for free or at a low cost, build your brand, and share your expertise. Success stories are everywhere! A friend of mine owns Cream Barber and Shop in the Detroit area and uses Facebook to share his company's hours of operation, special promotion information, and photos of happy customers. Over the past four months, his Facebook page has grown to nearly 1,000 organic likes -- and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are three easy steps to determining how your small business can use social media:
Step 1: Identify your goals
Who are you trying to reach with social media? Are you working to build a local following of potential customers? Do you sell products to businesses around the country? These are a few of the questions you should ask yourself before you start using social media platforms for your business. I've noticed that Facebook is great for building a strong consumer community, and Twitter's a great business-to-business channel. Think through who you're trying to reach before pushing out content to them, and then ensure the content is appropriate for that audience.
What do you want to communicate to your audience? Once you've determined your target audience, it's time to figure out what you'd like to do for them on social channels. Sure, you may want them to do something for you -- likely convert, become a customer, or turn into a viable lead -- but you should also think about how you can add value to your followers and what you can contribute to the conversations happening on social channels. Are you a landscaper? Share the industry's best tips for consumers looking to keep their yards well-manicured. Post valuable information for your target audience and they'll start to see you as a trusted resource.
Step 2: Learn the difference between the platforms
There are many social media platforms out there, but your business doesn't need to be on every single one. Use your goals to determine which is the best fit for you. It is better to use one or two social media platforms well than to use all of them haphazardly or even sparingly. Since your audience may only be on a few of them, those are the ones you should target. Here are the primary social media platforms you should consider adding to your social media mix.
Twitter: Countless companies are using Twitter to connect with each other, taking advantage of the business-to-business conversations that allow companies across the world to connect. Use Twitter to share company news and comment on industry happenings. At Locqus, we use our Twitter account to connect with companies that have a mobile workforce. By exchanging industry news with these companies, as well as posting quotes and news stories that are applicable to our customers, our Twitter following has grown exponentially in just four months.
Facebook: Now, more than ever, it seems more and more businesses are building their brand's presence on Facebook. Companies can use the timeline feature to engage with consumers, answer customer service questions, and share a piece of their office culture. Facebook tends to be most effective when the posts include multimedia visuals like photos, videos or articles. A big difference between the content you're able to distribute on Facebook and your content on Twitter is the length -- you're not limited to just 140 characters on Facebook, so feel free to use a bit of extra time and space to really connect with your audience.
Google+: Think of Google+ as a free-flowing stream of content. One huge bonus of the platform is the ability to host an easy video conference or webinar, better known as a Hangout. Use live video events to showcase your expertise, provide value to potential and existing customers, and even engage with peers in your industry.
LinkedIn: There are more than 277 million individuals and companies on LinkedIn. This platform is a great place to connect with other companies or potential employees. LinkedIn makes it easy to share business news, new hiring opportunities, and company announcements or blog posts.
Quora: Newer to the social media game is Quora, but it's steadily building its presence as a viable business tool. Launched publicly in 2010, Quora enables users to crowd source answers to questions. The platform allows individuals to participate in industry conversations and share personal experiences and expertise with other business owners and clients. Brand yourself as a thought leader by answering questions from peers or consumers relating to your area of expertise and amplifying your credibility.
Step 3: Engage strategically
Social media provides your small business with the ability to reach a vast audience with the click of a button. Don't waste the opportunity -- be strategic in your sharing. Post relevant content consistently, and even watch to see how often your peers are posting on each social channel. Remember to diversify your message across channels -- you're likely reaching different types of audiences via different platforms so you should target the posts accordingly. Encourage engagement by asking questions and responding to answers. Interact with your peers and customers on social media, instead of simply broadcasting your own company messages.
Testing is key when it comes to social media work. Try different combinations of social channels and message types to evaluate which generates the most engagement from your audience. Test new strategies, and have fun with it!
Paul Proctor is co-founder of Locqus, a free, online platform and mobile app that provides small businesses with a big company experience through streamlined, easy-to-use tracking and management services.
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